The Urban Sherpa - a blog by Christopher DeWan

(five by five...)

Read Work and Other Essays, a collection of nonfiction by Christopher DeWan.

That Guy rating=3

When I wake up, I can't tell what's going on. It's dark and there's sharp thudding. After a few seconds, the morning snaps into better focus and I understand: it's that guy. That insomniac road crew guy who runs the jack-hammer. He's at it again.

As I sit up in bed, I feel vaguely like Roy Scheider, who, having vanquished the giant predatory shark in Jaws and then again in Jaws 2, sees his family flee from Hawaii to Florida, only to have the shark follow them, in Jaws 3-D, looking for revenge.

* * *

We first met in upstate New York: I lived in a sleepy college town, in one of those broken-down, overpopulated old clapboard houses that make up these towns—the kind where the walls are all crooked and the doors never quite line up, and rooms seem to have been haphazardly appended to the original structure till you can't tell what the original structure was, rooms just slapped on here and there so that the building resembles a hamster's Habitrail—even before one considers the rat's-nest decor of piled laundry and food containers that are the closest thingThat Guy the house has to insulation. You know—one of those houses?

We lived a little ways off the road, but they were doing some work on a water line or sewer line or something, and that's how I met that guy.

That guy, that orange-vested guy with bulging triceps and a penchant for early rising, was an up-and-comer: he had everything it took to be a very successful jack-hammerer. And he knew it. Every morning he'd be up and coming right outside our window, hammering away into our driveway, into what felt like the foundation of the house, into what felt like my molars and my cranium, at 7am. 7am! No regard was given to the fact that we we'd been up all night working studying drinking and playing guitar. 7am, on the button, every morning. This guy was a German train. This guy was the Cal Ripkin of jack-hammerers.

The resulting lack of sleep led to more than half of the house coming down with mono.1

There was no evidence to support the obvious theory—that guy enjoyed waking us each morning from our privileged (and often hung-over) sleep.

* * *

I didn't see that guy again for a few years: we drifted apart and went our separate ways, and I kind of forgot about him. Maybe I caught a glimpse of him in L.A., but I couldn't be sure, because the steep angle of the sun threw the shadow of the hard hat across his face, and all I saw for sure were his white teeth shining out from his gleaming sadistic 7am smile.

* * *

It's only natural, I guess, that we each wound up in Boston: it's an obvious destination for private contractors and for over-educated liberal arts grads. The entire city of Boston is always under construction, constantly.2 Road crews are easier to find than T stops, and at least as prevalent as Dunkin Donuts.3

[Construction is the status quo in Boston, along with its evil twin, destruction. Put aside the exceptional example of the Big Dig and consider instead the thousands of smaller-scale fiascos: i.e., the entire time I was in Boston (so, two years) saw work on the Congress Street Bridge, a major passage across the Boston Channel into South Boston. Work started before I arrived and it goes on to this day. Construction in Boston is so common that you might never twice take the same route from one place to another: like the Hogwarts staircase, the road itself will bend and twist and reshape itself over time.]

That guy found me a week after I renewed my lease in Boston's South End. I had plenty of misgivings about signing on to another year of that apartment (in particular) and another year of Boston (in general), but I made some peace with these misgivings, and decided it was for the best that I stay. I inked the new lease and settled in for another year.

The wrecking ball showed up the following week, there to tear down the adjacent building and replace it a new set of luxury condos. Yes—wrecking ball. Since we'd first met in that sleepy college town, that guy had diversified: he was now adept in many new tools of noise and destruction, including (but not limited to) the pile driver, the bulldozer, the wrecking ball, and even explosives.

The amount of time it takes, apparently, to level an old building, clear the rubble, and then build, from the ground up, a new set of luxury condos is exactly one year—exactly the duration of the lease I'd just signed. They were just installing the windows when I drove my U-haul out of town.

I hope that guy forgives me for not saying goodbye.

* * *

From the window of my Brooklyn apartment, I can make him out, in his too-familiar hard hat and orange vest. He's surrounded by an army of rubber construction cones and he's blissfully jack-hammering away. Sitting there on the curb, off to one side, there's a coffee from Dunkin Donuts. Even from this distance, through the light rain and through the cement dust that rises up around him, through the shadow that the sun casts off of his hard hat, I can see his bright teeth smiling, as he hammers his way back into my day.


1. Or maybe it was all the kissing.

2. Given the number of liberal arts grads, it's probably under constant deconstruction as well.

3. It's completely possible the prevalence of Dunkin Donuts in Boston is a direct result of the prevalence of road crews, because you will never see one without the other.